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Features

666

Tuesday's date carries the mark of the beast, the number that the Bible associates with the Antichrist. Where some see evil, others see dollar signs.

By SUSAN ASCHOFF
Published June 5, 2006


Pregnant Melissa Parker, one hand to her forehead in posed anguish, tells readers of the Sun she is terrified of giving birth to the devil.

The Brit’s due date is Tuesday, 06/06/06, the number of the beast. Her friends laugh at her fears, she told the London paper. She is inconsolable.

“Any child born on that day,’’ she insists, “will be marked for life.’’

Bible verses and superstition imbue 666 with evil. Could this sixth day of the sixth month of the sixth year prove apocalyptic? Surely people of faith are seeking spiritual guidance, fearful of what is to come.

“Not one,’’ said Pastor William Rice of Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater last week. “It hadn’t even occurred to me.’’

“Not a soul mentioned it,’’ said First Baptist of Lutz Pastor Charles White.

The date’s notoriety did not escape the notice of others. Have no fear, marketing is here.

Religious conservatives purposely picked Tuesday to release books about doomsday and Democrats. Death metal bands drop albums praising, well, death. A movie studio premieres its remake of the 1976 film The Omen. And in a coincidence of scheduling, Angels battle Devils in a game revered as a religion in a city named for a saint.

“We won’t have an exorcism,’’ said Tampa Bay Devil Rays spokesman Rick Vaughn, “but the first 15,000 fans will get a free beach towel.’’

Scary.

The number appears in the book of Revelation, 13:16-18. Here is an excerpt from the King James version:
Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man, and his number is six hundred threescore and six.

The three sixes represent the beast, or Antichrist — a person or entity that embodies evil and opposes truth. The Antichrist will come to Earth and battle Christ for followers. Chaos and suffering will ensue.

British tabloids pounced on stories of pregnant women, including  Parker, afraid they would give birth to Damien and demanding caesarean sections before the date.  Law enforcement in Colorado said it would be “on the lookout for something’’ on June 6, reported DenverPost.com.

Then there are those who embrace the sixes.

Conservative darling Ann Coulter releases her new book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism. Publisher Crown Forum says the date was chosen before the book had a title. Coulter, who likes to portray Democrats as spawn of the devil, said publishing her book on 6-6-06 is “my little tribute to liberals.’’

The Rapture, the latest in the Left Behind series that has sold more than 40-million books, also debuts Tuesday. One of three prequels, the novel shows time ticking down to when the faithful join God and the unsaved are left behind to deal with Armageddon, according to authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.

Jenkins dismisses Tuesday’s date. “666 is just a number,’’ he said in a news release.

Musical anarchists think otherwise. Tuesday death metal band Deicide (which means “death of a god”) releases two downloads from its Tampa-recorded The Stench of Redemption. The album was supposed to drop Tuesday. Instead fans get a taste in Homage for Satan and Crucified for the Innocence. Another heavy metal group, Slayer, was slated to open its “Unholy Alliance’’ tour, but missed the magic date when a band member needed gallbladder surgery. Tuesday in Atlanta, the Little Five Points Rockstar Orchestra turns the Iron Maiden album Number of the Beast into a musical called 666: A Tribute to the Devil and Heavy Metal.

Serious scholars decipher the meaning of 666 by beginning not with the calendar, but with the Bible.

“In the Bible, and the book of Revelation specifically, seven is the number of God, of perfect completeness, so 777 is God’s number. The number of the beast, the anti-God, Antichrist, is 666,’’ explains Sean McDonough, associate professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts.

“Six-six-six is attempting to be like God, but never reaches it,’’ he says.

Thousands of Floridians do not believe the number is flawed — they play 6-6-6 in the daily Florida Lottery Cash 3. The number has hit nine times in 17 years and paid out to 47,848 winning tickets.

In The Omen, the three sixes are etched in the child’s scalp like a cattle brand, hidden by his hair. The Bible says followers of the Antichrist will be marked, but is not clear on how. Modern technology offers the paranoid endless possibilities: sixes imbedded in bar codes in grocery stores, hidden in credit card and Social Security numbers, or programmed in computer chips for implantation under the skin.

Conspiracy theorists and Internet junkies find the Antichrist everywhere. By assigning numbers to the letters of the alphabet in varying patterns, virtually any name will total some derivation of 666. According to Web sites, the late Ronald Reagan, Saddam Hussein, Prince William, Bill Gates, Michael Jackson, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and George Steinbrenner all need their scalps examined.

A fascination with numbers reflects humans’ superstitious beginnings, experts say. ABC’s Lost has kept millions hypothesizing about a series of six numbers: 4-8-15-16-23-42. They’ve appeared on everything from a winning lottery ticket to sports jerseys in an airport to a mysterious hatch on the island where the group of plane crash survivors is stranded. The hatch has been described by followers of the show as “a bulwark against Armageddon.’’ No triple-sixes have materialized. Yet.

Fear of the number 666 is called hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia.

 McDonough says he prefers a biblical interpretation, subscribed to by many theologians, that assigns the number 666 to Nero Caesar. “He was the first one to persecute Christians in a bloodthirsty way,” says McDonough. “There were rumors he hadn’t really died and would come back and destroy Rome.’’

John, the author of the book of Revelation, could have been using these rumors of Nero’s return “to illustrate the recurring nature of evil,’’ McDonough says. “There was a tendency to play around with numbers in the ancient world.’’

The professor is “aggravated” by literal interpretations. “It’s not meant to be fodder for a U2 concert. John wants his readers to understand they are in God’s care. He wants them to have hope.’’

Left Behind series author Jenkins says numbers are not evil. “It’s the Antichrist who is evil.’’

To promote the remake of The Omen, planes towed banners over spring break beachgoers — “You have been warned,’’ read one — and prompted frightened calls to police. In Panama City, a fighter jet was dispatched to escort one of the prop planes to the airstrip, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported.

Examining a tiny fragment of papyrus from the oldest surviving copy of the New Testament, researchers last year pronounced that the mark of the beast is actually 616.

The darkest day was last Thursday?

The first day of hurricane season.

Scary.

Susan Aschoff can be reached at (727) 892-2293 or aschoff@sptimes.com.

[Last modified June 5, 2006, 20:33:09]


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